Rushdie affair: protest continue in Pakistan, Christians fear retaliations
by Qaiser Felix
Protests in Pakistan against the knighthood awarded by the British government to the “apostate” writer have spread to Iran and Malaysia. Islamabad, Tehran and London trade accusations in a diplomatic war of words. There are fears that the affair will be politically exploited like the Muhammad cartoons and the Pope’s Regensburg speech were last year. Pakistani Christians are concerned that the incident might further undermine inter-faith harmony in the country.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Islamic groups continue their protests against the British government for its decision to award a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. In 1989 Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the Indian-born British writer for his book The Satanic Verses, deemed blasphemous. The move forced the writer, who still needs bodyguards, into hiding. In Pakistan local Christians are afraid that the controversy will be used by Muslim extremists against inter-faith harmony the way the Pope’s speech in Regensburg and the Muhammad cartoons were.

In Multan, about 100 Islami Jamiat Talaba students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie, shouting “Kill him! Kill him!” In Lahore, Quetta and in some other cities same protests also took place.

Diplomatic relations between London and Islamabad have soured with Pakistani authorities demanding Britain withdraw the title.

Pakistan’s foreign minister summoned the UK High Commissioner Robert Brinkley who expressed London’s "deep concern" over reported comments by Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz ul-Haq, suggesting that the award could justify suicide attacks.

“If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Muhammad, his act is justified,” the minister said, only to back paddle later, saying extremists could use it to justify attacks.

In Pakistan the atmosphere remains tense. “Revenge attacks against Christians in Pakistan could take place like they did last year,” said Fr Aftab James Paul, diocesan director of the National Commission for Interfaith Harmony and Ecumenism, “but I am certain that the Muslim world will understand the situation and will realise Pakistani Christians have no interest or responsibility in this affair.”

But for Dominican Fr Raphael Mehnga, “the greatest danger is that the incident might be used to pit Muslims and Christians and compromise inter-faith relations.”

“Manipulated” protest growing

That the danger of a backlash is real is shown by the reactions of other Muslim countries which like Iran joined Pakistan to complain about the “insult against Islam”.

Iran summoned UK ambassador Geoffrey Adams to protest against the knighthood. “This insulting, suspicious and improper act by the British government is an obvious example of fighting against Islam,” Iran's Foreign Ministry Director for Europe, Ebrahim Rahimpour, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Majlis first deputy speaker, Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, went even further. “The British queen has hurt religious sentiments of the world Muslims by her unwise act.”

Anti-Rushdie demonstrations were reported today in Malaysia in front of the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur organised by opposition party Islam se-Malaysia.

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